As has been mentioned in recent posts on this blog, since my father passed away last fall I have been working my way through the lifetime of possessions he and my mother accumulated over the years.
Many of the larger pieces have been consigned to two auction houses: Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York, which specializes in high-end pieces, and Hyde Park Country Auctions, in Hyde Park (the FDR Hyde Park, south of Rhinebeck, not the Long Island Hyde Park, or, for that matter, the London one), which will be handling the more quotidian items when their new facility opens in September. Both allow internet bidding.
Many of Sam and Grayson’s larger pieces will be featured in Stair’s “Fine” auction on June 27, 2015. But two items have been slotted into their “Modern” sale on Saturday, June 6th (http://www.stairgalleries.com/auctions/june-6-2015/). One, listed as Lot 819, is the brass, steel and glass desk at which Sam wrote daily on the second floor of Wildercliff for many years. It was sold to him by its designer, the noted John Vesey. It’s a gorgeous piece of furniture. The estimate is $1500-$2500, though Veseys have occasionally been known to go higher than that. The second piece, lot 779, is a lovely, graceful and beautifully crafted blonde wood stool, in an elegant and perplexing design. And it actually comes with one of my favorite Sam Hall stories.
STOOL, SORI YANAGI “BUTTERFLY”, 1980’s
Sam would often be asked to open Wildercliff for charity events. Every year, Hudson Heritage, a local land preservation group, would organize a fundraiser by enlisting a group of owners of large Hudson Valley homes to open their houses to the paying public for one day. Sam always supported their work, and usually said yes. People would pay money to be carted from large house to large house and oooh and aaah at the view, the furnishings, the weird colors we favored, and the rest of it. Docents were positioned on every floor to explain things and keep an eye out for thieves.
Sam would be fresh-eyed and set to charm, pug on arm, when the first bus pulled up in the morning. By the end of the day, having put up through bus after bus of people wandering through his life (and often making quite inelegant and misinformed statements about it), he had always had enough. The charm would wear off, the pug would be let down to bark at whomever she pleased, wine would be poured for himself and maybe me if I was around, and he would give in to the mildly evil side of his nature, and begin to interact with these earnest tourists in whatever way amused him.
So: long day, orange early-evening light slanting through the windows on the second floor, and there are a pair of biddies in his bedroom, and they are asking him about every little thing. They ask about his preposterously long bed (“I was going to get a St Bernard, but it didn’t work out,” was his usual response—entirely untrue, of course; from my birth forward, Sam’s dogs had always been pugs). They considered the painted white paisley patterns on the floor, and declared them “interesting.” He didn’t bother to point out the fake shafts of sunlight carefully dappled in; he’d been saying it all day and he wanted his house—his life— back from these interlopers. He wanted them to leave. And then their eyes fell on the wooden butterfly chair in the corner. “What’s that?” one of them asked. Something broke inside Sam, some last piece of decency and decorum. “That,” he said, his wit dry as a carefully sharpened sword, “is my Japanese cocksucking stool.”
It worked. The biddies hustled back down the stairs and were out of the house in two minutes. Later, when he told me I roared with laughter, as did everyone else he told, and it made it into his repertoire of dependably funny stories. But when he first told me, after I stopped laughing, he asked if he had been too mean, too bizarre, making up a thing like that just to get the day over.
No, I assured him, he had been precisely mean enough.